Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.
IRAQ and SYRIA
US special operations forces in Syria. The Defense Department has confirmed that photos taken by an AFP photographer in a village 40 miles from Raqqa show American commandos assisting Kurdish YPG forces during their offensive against ISIS north of the militant group’s de facto capital. [The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman; New York Times’ Eric Schmitt] The Pentagon has denied that special operations forces are taking a front-line role against ISIS, though press secretary Peter Cook acknowledged that there was no “specific measurement” for what the “forward line” is. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]
The US is “two-faced” if it refuses to see Syrian Kurdish YPG militia as terrorists, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said today. [Reuters’ Tulay Karadeniz et al]
Meanwhile, the military push on Raqqa is facing challenges, as US officials fail to convince a sufficient number of local Arab forces to take part in the assault let by the Kurds. [Financial Times’ Geoff Dyer and Erika Solomon]
Battle for Fallujah. Humanitarian conditions in the embattled Iraqi city are of mounting concern, 50,000 civilians remaining in the city which has been controlled by ISIS since January 2014. Conditions have worsened in recent months as government-aligned forces put the city under siege. [Washington Post’s Missy Ryan and Mustafa Salim]
“I strongly urge all parties to the conflict to secure exits for the civilian population of Fallujah.” Becky Bakr Abdulla from the Norwegian Refugee Council discusses the conditions in a displacement camp outside of the city, and the threat posed to those that remain in the city. [The Guardian]
“Fallujah is a place with bad memories for the American soldiers who served in Iraq.” The Economist comments on the importance of the strategic city and why reclaiming it from the Islamic State has become a priority.
Syria peace negotiations will resume “as soon as feasible,” the UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura told the Security Council yesterday.
“Intelligence officials, who have spent the past two years trying to pinpoint Baghdadi’s movements, are now convinced that he moves within a tight arc of north-western Iraq and north-eastern Syria.” Martin Chulov and Spencer Ackerman discuss the “hunt” for the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, at the Guardian.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out five strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on May 25. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 24 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
“Years of inaction have narrowed US options.” Michael Gerson criticizes President Obama’s “hands-off approach” to Syria, concluding that when “the United States refuses to play an active role, the natural result is a regional Shi’ite-Sunni proxy war.” [Washington Post]
GLOBAL NUCLEAR THREAT
Today, Obama becomes the first president to visit Hiroshima since the US dropped the world’s first atomic bomb there almost 71 years ago. [Washington Post’s David Nakamura] Obama has made it clear that he will not be apologizing for Harry S Truman’s decision to drop the bomb, which, along with the second bomb at Nagasaki, is estimated to have taken over 200,000 lives. The President’s purpose in visiting the site is, he said from Shima yesterday, to “underscore the very real risks that are out there and the sense of urgency that we all should have” about North Korea and its fervid nuclear weapons program. [New York Times’ Gardiner Harris] The New York Times and the Guardian are providing live updates on the visit.
“Under the Obama presidency, contrary to perceptions, the pace of nuclear warhead dismantlement has slowed, not hastened.” Tim Wright charts Barack Obama’s nuclear record since his 2009 speech in which he set out his vision for “the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” earning him the Nobel peace prize. [The Guardian] Nor does Obama’s nuclear disarmament record compare favorably with those of previous presidents, as last month’s Federation of American Scientists’ report shows: Obama has cut less, and spent more, than his last three predecessors, including both Presidents Bush, reports William J Broad. [New York Times]
The growth of North Korea’s nuclear-weapons and missile program under his watch is Obama’s most “glaring” failure, accuses The Economist. Unbound by any global rules, and protected by China, North Korea has “taken a sledgehammer” to the “three pillars” on which the taboo against nuclear weapons rests: “policies to prevent proliferation, norms against the first use of nukes (especially against non-nuclear powers) and deterrence.” No wonder, the article muses, Obama has preferred to focus his efforts on Iran, instead.
“Mutual assured destruction” is becoming “increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective,” now that nine nations worldwide are in possession of nuclear arms, and terrorist organizations are seeking them, writes former senator Sam Nunn. The co-chairman and chief executive of the Nuclear Threat Initiative sets out “practical steps” world leaders must take to reduce nuclear risk now. [Washington Post]
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
The FBI would be given the power to demand individuals’ email data from their service provider without a warrant and in complete secrecy by a provision in the still-secret Senate annual intelligence authorization. The wording may also allow the FBI to demand users’ web-surfing history. Jenna McLaughlin report. [The Intercept]
The fingerprint and DNA records of hundreds of terror suspects have been wrongly deleted from UK police databases. The error was initially disclosed in a Biometrics Commissioner report two months ago, but this report has now been updated to reflect that the amount of data deleted is almost double that initially thought. [BBC]
“Low-tech is safer tech:” this is a major reason why the Department of Defense still uses 1970s technology – including floppy disks – to control its nuclear weapons, says Brian Fung. [Washington Post]
EUROPEAN TERROR THREAT
Islamic State executioner Hicham Chaib had been in contact with the Belgians arrested this week for planning terrorist attacks, intercepted communications have disclosed. Four adults and – as has now been disclosed – several teenagers were arrested in and around Antwerp on Wednesday. [Wall Street Journal’s Valentina Pop and Matthew Dalton]
France is gearing up for the security challenges posed by the impending Euro 2016 soccer tournament, Europe’s largest sporting event, which it is set to host. The nation is still under the state of emergency, imposed after the November Paris terror attacks. [Wall Street Journal’s William Horobin and Joshua Robinson]
HILLARY CLINTON EMAIL CONTROVERSY
Federal Judge Emmet Sullivan made an order to seal all video interviews related to Hillary Clinton’s private email server. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]
The New York Times editorial board observes that “across the years of the Clintons’ ascendency, the public has seen that Mrs Clinton can be fiercely protective of her role and prerogatives,” commenting after the release of a report by the State Department on her use of a private email server while in office as secretary of state.
“The Democratic front-runner is mired in a scandal of her own nurturing,” writes The Economist on Clinton’s email arrangement, adding that: “Yet if it may be possible to take a tolerant view of how this started, there is no excusing the mess Mrs Clinton has made of it.”
PAKISTAN and THE TALIBAN
Pakistan confirmed the death of Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour for the first time yesterday, five days after the US drone strike that killed him in Pakistani territory. Salman Masood has the details. [New York Times]
Pakistan is failing to put any real pressure on the Taliban to reengage in peace talks with the Afghan government, opines Ahmed Rashid, arguing that with a new leader in place, there is limited time for the next push for peace talks. [BBC]
Guantánamo Bay detainee Abu Zubaydah, not seen publicly since his 2002 arrest and “brutal interrogation” by the CIA, may soon appear in court to testify on conditions at the secret prison Camp 7, having been called as a witness by a defendant in the 9/11 war crimes case. A Senate report found that Zubaydah was the first prisoner at the detention center to be subjected to waterboarding, a CIA interrogation technique which is now widely considered to be torture. He has never been charged. [AP/Miami Herald]
The US has increased training exercises with militaries across Africa, including Burkina Faso, Kenya, and Gabon, to assist them in combating rising terror groups – focusing on defending civilian targets. The co-operation between the US and African nations is a “far cry” from “the days when the Pentagon viewed the continent as a place to avoid, fearing open-ended United Nations peacekeeping missions,” observes Helene Cooper. [New York Times]
An emergency signal from crashed EgyptAir Flight 804 has been detected by Egyptian investigators, the lead investigator saying that this could help them to locate its fuselage. [Wall Street Journal’s Tamer el-Ghobashy et al]
Two drone pilots active during the 2012 terror attack in Benghazi, Libya, have been interviewed by the House Select Committee on Benghazi. The pilots have been at the center of an argument between committee Republicans and the White House in the past few weeks, over whether it was necessary to hear their evidence. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]
Nearly 1000 people were killed in attacks on healthcare facilities in crisis zones in 2014-15, a World Health Organization report has found. Worse yet, 62 per cent of the attacks which killed them were “deliberate.” In 19 per cent of cases, intentionality could not be ascertained. [Washington Post’s Max Bearak]
There is “hope emanating” from the ongoing Yemen peace talks, the UN has said: warring parties have begun to discuss details of a comprehensive agreement.
Closing the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya would be a “humanitarian and security disaster,” says the Washington Post editorial board. The closure would force hundreds of thousands back to Somalia which could “boost al-Shabaab’s terrorism” in that country, the vast numbers of “helpless and vulnerable” people providing a “fertile recruiting ground.”
The UK is to send another warship to help combat arms smuggling in Libya, UK Prime Minister David Cameron has announced. [BBC]
An al-Shabaab member has been convicted of masterminding a 2010 twin bombing in Uganda’s capital Kampala, which killed 76 people at a football match. Isa Luyima is thought to be the first member of al-Shabaab to be convicted of such a high-profile offense. [Financial Times’ John Aglionby]